One of the holy trinity of similarly-monikered bands-of-the-moment (theother two being Crystal Castles and Crystal Stilts – and that’s before we get to Crystal Fighters), Crystal Antlersreleased a self-titled (and originally self-released, until picked up byTouch and Go Records) EP to much critical acclaim back in the early part of2008. This full-length album, their first, has thus been the subject ofmuch fervent expectation in some quarters. Does it fulfil the high hopes?
The main elements on display are psych, punk, blues and drone.Often coming off like the great lost Nuggets band (think ’60s misfits likeElectric Prunes or Thirteenth Floor Elevators, or more modernadherents like Reigning Sound or Jay Reatard), the psychedeliais ramped up with liberal use of the Hammond organ (from the frantic openingarpeggios of Painless Sleep, to the concise demarcating chords in Dust, tothe tuneful deployment in Swollen Sky). A strong bluesy influence can beheard on the slower, more impassioned tracks, particularly the rather lovelyAndrew: four tracks in, and the first song that really soundsmeant.
Elsewhere the punk element comes more to the fore, notably with thefeedback and tinkle of smashing glass at the end of Time Erased, thefrenetic pace of Tentacles and the shouty vocal in Your Spears. Quitedistinct from any other track on the album (and perhaps the better for it)is Vapor Trail, an instrumental number, all hypnotic drones and trippycymbal noises. Very Sunburned Hand Of The Man, and verybeguiling.
However, there are two main aspects to the Crystal Antlers’ sound that become wearisome after a few listens. The first is the vocal styleand delivery of singer Johnny Bell. He has a sort of on-one-levelgruff wail of a voice, which becomes strangely inexpressive overthe course of the whole album.
It is a voice that is certainly distinctive,but not one in which it’s easy to uncover much emotional range. Similarly,the band’s technique of cramming most songs until they are chock-full of somany different sounds (electronic bleeps + organ arpeggios + squallyguitar + bluesy guitar + brass + vocals + “busy” drumming, all at equallevel in the mix) becomes problematic.
Particularly on tracks such as Dust,Time Erased, Memorized, Glacier and Your Spears, the cumulative effect ofthis is in creating a kind of aural sludge – in much the same way thatmixing lots of lovely bright colourful paints will merely result in a dullsort of grey.
This is a great shame, as all the obvious influences ondisplay here would seem to signpost something much more exciting,invigorating and heartfelt. Hoping to encountersome of this around every “next corner”, excitement andinvigoration levels actually decline thelonger the album rolled on.
In short, then, apart from the nice flourishes and an undoubtedlyauthentic-sounding replication of mid- to late-’60s undergroundpsychedelia, this album seems to have been something of a misfire,lacking a convincing emotional undertow, or sufficient clarity in itsmusical presentation to engage or entrance the listener.